The 1st Forum 'From Islamic-Christian Dialogue to the Abrahamic Family', organised by the Foundation for Islamic Culture & Religious Tolerance (FICRT), has come to an end in Cordoba. During the last day, in addition to the conclusions and the manifesto, a round table discussion was held, chaired by Mohammed Dahiri, professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the UCM.
Participants included María Ángeles Gallego, senior scientist at the Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Mediterranean and Middle East of the CSIC; Ahmad H. Anwar, lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Port Said (Egypt); and Christian Giordano, PhD in Theology from the Free University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and pastor.
María Ángeles Gallego focused her talk on Jewish-Islamic interaction in Al Andalus. To explore this issue in greater depth, the specialist first mentioned a manifesto signed in 2016 by a group of Sephardim, Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. As a result, they formed a movement called 'Golden Age', which proposes equal rights for Ashkenazi Jews - originally from Central and Eastern Europe - and Sephardim, who denounce discrimination within Israel.
This group of Sephardic intellectuals also advocate that Israel should be considered a Middle Eastern country, not a European country in the Middle East, as many media outlets do. In this sense, they also call for highlighting Jews who come from the Arab world.
The postulates advocated by this group of Sephardim reflect how alive the concept of the Golden Age is within the people of Israel, as Gallego explained. This period refers to Jewish life in Al Andalus between the 10th and 12th centuries, where there was a "social and cultural apogee of the Jews", with Hebrew poetry being particularly prominent.
Gallego points out some characteristics of this historical period: active Jewish participation in the spheres of Muslim government, development of Hebrew grammar and Hebrew studies, which allowed for a very important advance in Hebrew poetry.
Through their office, Jews who participated in the Muslim government defended and protected the interests of the community, as well as promoting its culture. As such, they were considered a source of pride in Jewish society. Among these viziers, Gallego highlights Hasday ibn Shaprut and Samuel ben Nagrella, who achieved a breakthrough in the Hebrew language.
The other important point is the development of Hebrew grammar, which in turn led to the development of Hebrew poetry, considered to be a work of great quality. Gallego showed several poems, including one written by a Jewish woman.
She also mentioned a poem by Yehuda ha-Levi which shows the beginning of the end of the Golden Age. In it, the author reflects a great nostalgia for Zion, Jerusalem and the Temple. At that time, Al Andalus was being transformed and the Jewish community was less and less involved.
After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, this legacy did not begin to be researched until the 17th century in Europe, when anti-Semitism on the continent was on the rise. Jewish researchers then came to two conclusions. Firstly, they point out that their situation is better when they are under Muslim power than when they are under Christian power. On the other hand, they claim that during al-Andalus the community experienced its greatest period of prosperity.
All this, according to Gallego, generates an 'idealisation of Al Andalus' among the Jewish community, who even compare the Spanish cities of Cordoba, Granada and Toledo with other sacred locations such as Jerusalem or Tiberias, which demonstrates the great level of admiration for this historical period.
Coexistence in Egypt
Afterwards, it was the turn of Ahmad H. Anwar, a specialist in Sufism and Islamic philosophy. The professor highlighted the coexistence between Muslims and Christians in his country, Egypt.
This religious plurality, in Anwar's words, "is a historical reality", since in ancient times we already find various and plural religions. "It is a phenomenon that can be found throughout the history of mankind," he recalls. As for the origin of this plurality, Anwar is clear: "I believe that this plurality stems from the divine will, it stems from the will of God".
The Egyptian professor called for a return to the "original message" of religions, as this message "has sometimes been diverted". "No people are innocent of violence. We don't want what happened years ago to happen, so we need to go back to that original message," he said.
In addition to this, dialogue is also essential to "find mercy, peace and justice". "All religions are committed to justice in the world," Anwar added.
Within the dialogue, the specialist mentioned the Islamo-Christian dialogue carried out in Egypt in 2011. In that year, the Egyptian Family House was founded at the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. The temple's imam invited Pope Francis, a gesture applauded by the country's Coptic community.
Arab Spring, a commission was founded with several objectives: dialogue, exchange of religious experience, working together to maintain peace among all Egyptians and highlighting common religious symbols.
In 2021, a congress was held to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this cooperation. In Anwar's words, last year's event also reflects this partnership. "The work must continue," he concluded.
Christian Giordano, theologian and evangelist, closed the table. In his speech, he emphasised the "human relationship of the forum" and presented information on Protestants and Evangelicals. Giordano explained that the communities have "historical differences", although in places such as Latin America these terms overlap.
Regarding inter-religious dialogue, the theologian raised the possibility of including seculars and agnostics. "We should aspire to dialogue with everyone," he said.
Giordano mentioned interesting ideas for the forum, such as proselytising or the abolition of anti-conversion laws, which generated an enriching debate among the attendees.
"Dialogue requires courage," he said, reiterating the words of Jumaa Alkaabi during his opening speech. "Tolerance is not renouncing culture but listening to others. It is talking about what unites us, but also about what differentiates us".